Nathaniel Chalobah has admitted his decision to leave Chelsea this summer was “brave” but has already been justified by a first call-up to the England squad, with the Watford midfielder hoping to make his senior debut in the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.
Chalobah, who had entered the final 12 months of his deal at Stamford Bridge, opted to turn down Chelsea’s offer of a new contract after talks with Antonio Conte and the academy graduate moved instead to Vicarage Road for a cut-price £5.5m. The 22-year-old believed he would have been loaned out for a seventh time in five years had he agreed new terms and remained with the champions, so took the bolder decision to seek out regular first‑team football with a team who finished 17th last season. He has started all three of Watford’s Premier League matches to date.
“It takes a lot [to leave],” he said. “You have to really look deep into yourself and see what makes you happy. For me I was at a top club and people were saying to me: ‘You are at Chelsea; you should stay at Chelsea, a big club.’ But that was not the problem. The problem was I wanted to play after getting a taste of it last year.
“I needed to go out and try to do better things for myself. You really have to be brave and sometimes decisions can be hard to make, especially when it is your future at stake. I had my family and friends and my agent, who is an ex-footballer himself and played a big part in it.”
Conte had reiterated his disappointment to lose Chalobah only last week in the wake of his first senior call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad, having been unable to persuade him to remain at the club earlier this summer. “I have a lot of respect for the manager,” said the player. “I had a few discussions with him and he was always honest with me, which is what I needed at the time.
“He gave me the opportunity that a lot of other managers hadn’t given me at Chelsea and for that I will forever be grateful. I have no bad things to say about the manager really.”
Chalobah had joined the Chelsea academy at the age of 10 but, despite impressing Conte, started only one Premier League game for the club. His tastes of senior football had come in a previous loan spell at Watford in the Championship, then with Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading and even Napoli in Serie A.
“I’d been on a few loans, back and forth,” he said. “But I was never really settled, so it was more a case of trying to find somewhere to call home. I was finding that difficult at Chelsea even though I was there for the whole season last year and played a few games.
“But it was still a hard decision. Chelsea was all I knew, the club I loved and supported. But I had to put myself in the best position and that was to go out there and get opportunities to play games. It’s a tough place, Chelsea, and sometimes you can get a bit carried away with being there and being on the brink, almost there [in the team]. But it’s very hard with established players ahead of you. For the youngsters it is a lot harder to get into the team. Now I can say that it was a good decision.”
The midfielder, along with Kieran Trippier, Phil Jones and Jake Livermore, was absent at England training at St George’s Park on Tuesday with a minor niggle but will hope over the next week to add a first senior cap to the 97 gained in England’s junior ranks. Jordan Pickford has returned to Everton with a minor leg injury.
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